A 31-year-old immigrant who is detained in a New Jersey jail by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials has tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It is the first confirmed coronavirus case among ICE detainees. A guard at the Bergen County Jail where the man is held, also tested positive for coronavirus last week.
The man is "quarantined and receiving care," according to an ICE press release, and no new detainees will be accepted at the Bergen County Jail. Those that have come in contact with him are being "cohorted and monitored." The jail is enacting a lockdown protocol — restricting inmates movements, and opening an COVID-19 isolation unit, the Bergen County Sheriff's Department said in a statement.
This first confirmed case, comes after ICE faced sharp criticism from immigrant advocates, Department of Homeland Security officials and physicians on how the agency has responded to the coronavirus.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of immigrants detained in two Maryland jails seeks to force ICE to release detainees who are elderly or have underlying medical conditions.
"This is what public health experts have assured us would happen: People in detention centers are sitting ducks for the spread of this virus. The same experts have also predicted that once outbreaks in detention centers begin, they will spread rapidly," said Andrea Flores, deputy director of policy, Equality Division, at the ACLU in a statement, "The suffering and death that will occur is unnecessary and preventable. ICE must take immediate and drastic steps to reduce the number of people in detention. If it doesn't, it will be to blame for a humanitarian crisis."
There are more than 37,000 ICE detainees nationwide. Several other organizations have filed similar suits against the agency. A group of more than 3,000 physicians sent a letter to ICE last week, asking the agency to release detainees in immigrant detention centers.
Last week, the agency announced they were halting most arrests, and would not continue operations at or near medical facilities.